Afghan Dispatch #7: Village (Originally Sent on May 20th, 2012)

We approached the village, if you could call it that, on foot.  It was really just a tiny hamlet of mud huts surrounding a central common area in the middle of an arid wasteland.  Morning cooking fires were burning.  Through gapes in a reed fence, I could see a woman dressed head to toe in black, her face covered.  She was sitting on the ground working tediously at something. I have no idea what.  Her husband his standing at the door.  He greets the Afghan policeman, who then follows him inside to conduct a “talashee,” or search.  The men exit just a minute later.  It doesn’t take long to search a mud hut.  The man’s cow is tied up in front and gets nervous, pulling at it’s rope and generally making a fuss.  We move on to the next dwelling.
The police go into the next one, quickly bringing out a man who has had his hands flexi-cuffed behind his back. Following them is what I assume is the man’s entire immediate family.  The children are crying and the women(wife and mother maybe?) are wailing loudly.  A soldier exits the house with a small case containing an AK47 assault rifle.  A common household item in these parts, and not illegal, as long as you have the proper paperwork.  The man does not.  He is led away to be detained, and his rifle is confiscated.  His mother berates the Afghan commander, no doubt pleading her son’s innocence.  We move on.
I can see a small herd of undersized camels passing to the right.  A shepherd drives and enormous flock of sheep at me from my left.  Chickens run about underfoot, and I worry about trampling these folks’ garden. I carefully watch where I step, not just for improvised explosive devices, but also out of consideration for a poverty stricken people still living in stone-age conditions.  Our party gets knee-deep crossing a filthy canal and move on to the next village.
A few settlements later, we come to an irrigated farming area, obviously much better off than the first little community.  The buildings are still made out of mud and straw, but they are obviously of better construction.  We come across a large group of children that tag along as we walk.  One has a bike. Some have shoes, most do not.  They shy away from my camera, thinking that if I take their picture that they will be arrested.  I don’t push the issue.  The kids follow us to what must serve as the general store for the settlement.  It’s really just a shabby bodega with a few older men sitting out front drinking tea, or “chai” to the Afghans. We are invited to join.
With some guys watching out for us, we have a glass of tea with the men while they tell us about their village.  I finish my tea first and go back over to the children, who have been sitting ten meters away watching. I pulled a Cliff bar out of a pouch and gave it to one of the kids. As he runs off, the previously wary children mob me.  They put their hands all over my gear and jump up and down, asking for more.  I only have one more so I give it to a kid, which promptly started an intense wrestling match.  “Wrong move Rumbolt,” I think.  Next time, I’ll only give out treats if I have enough for everyone.
We continue moving from farm to village, to farm, to village.  We jump/wade/fall in to many small irrigation ditches/sewage canals along the way, leaving us all smelling like shit from the waste down.  The Afghan search many homes.  The people are very friendly, though some what withdrawn when they talk to us. I guess that it’s more due to the presence of so many armed men than any intimidation by the Taliban.  Just a guess. 
Through all of this, we wear over 50 pounds of armor and ammo, and by the end of the trip I’m feeling it in every muscle group in my body.  We climbed over walls, tripped through wheat fields, and trekked across gobs of micro-terrain.  We finally end the patrol and head back to base. 
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